Tales of the Five Towns Part 8

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''Ello!' said the girl prettily (or, rather, she shouted prettily, having to compete with the two orchestras). 'You here again?'

The truth was that Ellis had been there on the previous night, when the Wakes was only half opened, and he had come again to-night expressly in order to see her; but he would not have admitted, even to himself, that he had come expressly in order to see her; in his mind it was just a chance that he might see her. She was a jolly girl. (We are gradually approaching the scandalous part.)

'What a jolly frock!' he said, when he had shot five celluloid b.a.l.l.s in succession off a jet of water.

Smiling, she mechanically took a ball out of the basket and let it roll down the conduit to the fountain.

'Do you think so?' she replied, smoothing the fluffy muslin ap.r.o.n with her small hands, black from contact with the guns. 'That one I wore last night was my second-best. I only wear this on Sat.u.r.days and Mondays.'

He nodded like a connoisseur. The sixth ball had sprung up to the top of the jet. He removed it with the certainty of a King's Prize winner, and she complimented him.

'Ah!' he said, 'you should have seen me before I took to smoking and drinking!'

She laughed freely. She was always showing her fine teeth. And she had such a frank, jolly countenance, not exactly pretty--better than pretty.

She was a little short and a little plump, and she wore a necklace round her neck, a ring on her dainty, dirty finger, and a watch-bracelet on her wrist.

'Why!' she exclaimed. 'How old are you?'

'How old are _you_?' he retorted.

Dogs do not give things away like that.

'I'm nineteen,' she said submissively. 'At least, I shall be come Martinmas.'

And she yawned.

'Well,' he said, 'a little girl like you ought to be in bed.'

'Sunday to-morrow,' she observed.

'Aren't you glad you're English?' he remarked. 'If you were in Paris you'd have to work Sundays too.'

'Not me!' she said. 'Who told you that? Have you been to Paris?'

'No,' he admitted cautiously; 'but a friend of mine has, and he told me.

He came back only last week, and he says they keep open Sundays, and all night sometimes. Sunday is the great day over there.'

'Well,' said the girl kindly, 'don't you believe it. The police wouldn't allow it. I know what the police are.'

More shooters entered the saloon. Ellis had finished his dozen; he sank into a lounge, and elegantly lighted a cigarette, and watched her serve the other marksmen. She was decidedly charming, and so jolly--with him.

He noticed with satisfaction that with the other marksmen she showed a certain high reserve.

They did not stay long, and when they were gone she came across to the lounge and gazed at him provocatively.

'Dashed if she hasn't taken a fancy to me!'

The thought ran through him like lightning.

'Well?' she said.

'What do you do with yourself Sundays?' he asked her.

'Oh, sleep.'

'All day?'

'All morning.'

'What do you do in the afternoon?'

'Oh, nothing.'

She laughed gaily.

'Come out with me, eh?'

'To-morrow? Oh, I should LOVE TO!' she cried.

Her voice expanded into large capitals because by a singular chance both the neighbouring orchestras stopped momentarily together, and thus gave her shout a fair field. The effect was startling. It startled Ellis. He had not for an instant expected that she would consent. Never, dog though he was, had he armed a girl out on any afternoon, to say nothing of Sunday afternoon, and Knype's Wakes Sunday at that! He had talked about girls at the club. He understood the theory. But the practice----

The foundation of England's greatness is that Englishmen hate to look fools. The fear of being taken for a ninny will spur an Englishman to the most surprising deeds of courage. Ellis said 'Good!' with apparent enthusiasm, and arranged to be waiting for her at half-past two at the Turk's Head. Then he left the saloon and struck out anew into the ocean.

He wanted to think it over.

Once, painful to relate, he had thoughts of failing to keep the appointment. However, she was so jolly and frank. And what a fancy she must have taken to him! No, he would see it through.

IV

If anybody had prophesied to Ellis that he would be driving out a Wakes girl in a dogcart that Sunday afternoon he would have laughed at the prophet; but so it occurred. He arrived at the Turk's Head at two twenty-five. She was there before him, dressed all in blue, except the white shoes and stockings, weighing herself on the machine in the yard.

She showed her teeth, told him she weighed nine stone one, and abruptly asked him if he could drive. He said he could. She clapped her hands and sprang off the machine. Her father had bought a new mare the day before, and it was in the Turk's Head stable, and the yardman said it wanted exercise, and there was a dogcart and harness idling about, and, in short, Ellis should drive her to Sneyd Park, which she had long desired to see.

Ellis wished to ask questions, but the moment did not seem auspicious.

In a few minutes the new mare, a high and somewhat frisky bay, with big shoulders, was in the shafts of a high, green dogcart. When asked if he could drive, Ellis ought to have answered: 'That depends--on the horse.'

Many men can tool a fifteen-year-old screw down a country lane who would hesitate to get up behind a five-year-old animal (in need of exercise) for a spin down Broad Street, Hanbridge, on Knype Wakes Sunday. Ellis could drive; he could just drive. His father had always steadfastly refused to keep horses, but the fathers of other dogs were more progressive, and Ellis had had opportunities. He knew how to take the reins, and get up, and give the office; indeed, he had read a handbook on the subject. So he rook the reins and got up, and the Wakes girl got up.

He chirruped. The mare merely backed.

'Give 'er 'er mouth,' said the yardman disgustedly.

'Oh!' said Ellis, and slackened the reins, and the mare pawed forward.

Then he had to turn her in the yard, and get her and the dogcart down the pa.s.sage. He doubted whether he should do it, for the pa.s.sage seemed a size too small. However, he did it, or the mare did it, and the entire organism swerved across a portion of the footpath into Broad Street.

For quite a quarter of a mile down Broad Street Ellis blushed, and kept his gaze between the mare's ears. However, the mare went beautifully.

You could have driven her with a silken thread, so it seemed. And then the dog, growing accustomed to his prominence up there on the dogcart, began to be a bit doggy. He knew the little thing's age and weight, but, really, when you take a girl out for a Sunday spin you want more information about her than that. Her asked her name, and her name was Jenkins--Ada. She was the great Jenkins's daughter.

('Oh,' thought Ellis, 'the deuce you are!')

Tales of the Five Towns Part 8

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Tales of the Five Towns Part 8 summary

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